Tag: Freedom of speech

Dissent, safety valve of Democracy

“Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst,” – Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, part of a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

The above quote is from a judgement which was passed by the Supreme Court on the detainment of the five activists who were arrested on the charge of ‘sedition.’ Their arrest had sparked off a debate. Is dissent in India under threat?

What is dissent? The dictionary defines it as, ‘the holding or expression of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held. 

There are multiple articles on this website which talk about how the people should value the rights they enjoy. But in this article, the primary focus will be laid on how these rights (especially freedom of expression) is indispensable for a nation.

Democracy, is one of the most widely accepted political systems across the world. 123 countries (out of 192) follow this system. It is the only system (till now) where the focus is on the individual. Fundamental rights are granted to the people to ensure their well being. Furthermore, these rights keep the powers of the government in check. Among these rights is the ‘freedom of expression.’ The term is quite self explanatory, it gives anyone the right to express their opinions on the public platform. This also includes ‘dissenting’ opinion.

Dissent has played a vital role in the history of India. ‘Sati Pratha‘ was a prevalent social practice in India during the 19th century.  ‘Sati‘ required the woman to immolate herself on the husband’s pyre. Women were forced to follow this practice. Raja Rammohan Roy dissented from society. He worked hard against conservatism, fought off the forces of the backward mindset society and succeeded into making the British Government listen to him. In 1829, under the Governorship of Lord William Bentinck, ‘Sati Pratha‘ was abolished.

In 1885, the Congress party was formed. It is often argued that this party was ‘allowed‘ to be created by the British. The reason being that it would act as a ‘safety valve‘ for the population they ruled. It gave them an insight into the thinking of Indians and develop a deep understanding of them. What the British did not realize was that this was the first of many mistakes they made. No one could have thought that an organization which was created as an experiment, would overthrow the mighty British Empire without even firing a single shot. Their key weapons were ‘ahimsa‘ (non violence) and ‘satya’ (truth). To this I would like to add, dissent.

If the leaders of the Congress hadn’t dissented from the methods of governance of the ruling dispensation. Then independence may never have come to us.

Another example of how dissent is vital for countries to maintain peace and stability. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). It was a Communist regime where freedom of expression was prohibited.  For a long time the people were denied the right to express their opinion. This pressure kept building and one day it burst. USSR ceased to exist in 1991.

The above example clearly illustrates how the lack of freedom of expression leads to strife and instability. However, does freedom of expression lead to peace? Let us look at the Roman Empire to answer this question.

An empire of three continents, the Roman Empire consisted of a very diverse population. To integrate the people of various ethnicity and cultures, the Roman senate began accepting popular leaders of these provinces as senators (representatives) of that province. This policy allowed the indigenous population to voice out their views in the central authority of the empire. When they realized that their voices were being heard, they would feel a sense of belonging with the foreign empire. If there would be boiling tensions then the ability to dissent and express would act as a safety valve. Things would not explode and peace could be restored easily.

A country is a complex machine. All such machines have a safety valve as a precaution to ensure that if there is a buildup of pressure, the safety valve can be opened up and the pressure can be released. In a country like India where there are people from various ethnicity, cultures, regions, religions; dissent plays an important role in maintaining the unity among the people. When we express ourselves or confide in someone, we feel good. Our mind clears and starts thinking logically and constructively again. This same concept can be applied to a country. When people can speak up, they release their anger and the pressure goes down.

What happens when this same anger is allowed to build up in the minds of the people? It becomes a ticking time bomb. Sooner or later it will explode. When it does, it will be very disastrous for the nation. Sometimes it may even lead to disintegration (as was the case with USSR.)

Does it mean that I am advocating dissent regardless of its repercussions? No. Absolutely not. The core value of dissent is to ensure peace and stability. Expression is a powerful tool and it has to be used wisely. Whoever uses this tool to instigate violence. Under the pretext of patriotism, is not patriotic. Peace and co-existence is enjoyed by very few in this world. I will quote our own Mahatma Gandhi on this, “I object violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

It is necessary that we protect dissent. Especially in a country like ours where diversity is an inherent characteristic. We are a nation built of nations, but we are a people of one nation. Dissent is essential for democracies to survive and thrive. Our ability to voice our opinions makes a lot of difference. It prevents violent and destructive thoughts from manifesting in our minds. Dissent acts as a safety valve, to release the pressure. We must always cherish and protect it.

Priyamvad Rai

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Right to Speak – ‘not Offend’

India: one of the largest democracies of the world. One of the few nations which did not fall into autocratic rule. One of the most liberal and accepting governments in the world. The credit for all of this goes not just to the people of this great nation, but also to the constitution and its makers. Our constitution is one of the most detailed and lengthiest constitution in the world. It is also a compilation of the best provisions of the constitutions of democratic countries across the world.

Our constitution provides for fundamental rights. These rights are defined as those provisions, without which, an individual cannot live a dignified life. Among the various fundamental rights that have been listed in the constitution, there is the ‘Right to Freedom of Expression.’ This right is one of the most widely used rights in contemporary India. Unfortunately, many do not know exactly how or what this right is.

Freedom of Expression means that we, the citizens of India have the right to express our views and opinions on any topic, via any medium and through any language— and no one, not even the government can curb or suppress these views. This also does not mean that we have the right to speak anything we want, without having to face the repercussions for it.

“Actions speak louder than words; but sometimes, words can hurt more than anything.”

Questioning the actions of the government, the ruling party, the administration is a sign of a healthy and thriving democracy. But if the questions are irrelevant or go against the interests of the people and the nation, they cannot be justified by saying, “I have the freedom to express my views.” Unnecessary accusations and questioning, that too without proof, harms the functioning of the country: the administration is bound to answer these questions, and thus it can get distracted from vital activities.

The worst use of this right is when someone uses it to attack an individual or an organization with baseless accusations that are not only false, but will harm the image of the organization or individual, permanently defaming and assassinating their character in the society. “Words can only be forgiven, not forgotten.” We should keep in mind our morality and be sensitive to others when it comes to speaking in public about him/her. Most of us attribute the taking of offense to a statement to the other person being naive, or not having a ‘sense of humour’; we fail to keep in mind that the concerned person or group may be going through some difficult situation or circumstance that prevents them from accepting our statement. We cannot be completely isolated from the views of other people, because in the end we are a society and we can only live when we have cohesion and cooperation among us.

We do not live alone on this planet. Thus, we must ensure that we include everyone as we move ahead on the path of progress. It cannot be an exclusive activity; it has to be inclusive of all sections of the society. In conclusion, we have the right to speak, but we also have the duty of respecting others and their views, as this is a democracy and not a dictatorship.

Priyamvad Rai